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As a manufacturer of 3rd Party Certified Optical Transceivers, I’m often barraged with questions regarding the difference between Cisco approved SFPs and third party SFPs (Cisco Compatible). Inevitably the discussion starts going down the slippery slope of vendor lock in and high-profit racketeering. I’m going to try to explain the differences and ways to circumvent “lock in”.

Cisco uses OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to produce all their SFPs, XFPs, SFP+, SFPs manufactured under the OEM model are packaged up in Cisco sealed bags and called “Cisco approved”.

Being Cisco approved means the SFPs have undergone rigorous testing with Cisco products and are guaranteed to have 100% compatibility and complete support. Third party SFPs (aka Cisco Compatible) are manufactured by companies not on the Cisco AVL  (approved vendor list) and, therefore, are not deemed Cisco approved. These manufacturers will offer 100% compatibility guarantees but Cisco will not support them. Cisco may threaten breach of SmartNet and refuse support. Cisco reserves the right to refuse service and/or support if the problem is determined to be related to third party SFPs. From personal experience I’ve had plenty of customers using third party SFPs call in for other hardware problems and the SFPs go unnoticed. But if you are trying to bring up a fiber connection and it won’t come up and need help from Cisco you won’t get far with 3rd party transceivers.

The third party SFPs won’t work by default. Cisco-approved SFP modules have a serial EEPROM that contains the module serial number, the vendor name and ID, a unique security code, and cyclic redundancy check (CRC). When an SFP module is inserted in the switch, the switch software reads the EEPROM to verify the serial number, vendor name and vendor ID, and recomputes the security code and CRC. If the serial number, the vendor name or vendor ID, the security code, or CRC is invalid, the software generates this security error message and places the interface in an error-disabled state.

Here is a common log message indicating the hardware platform has detected an invalid SFP:

SYS-3-TRANSCEIVER_NOTAPPROVED:Transceiver on port Gx/x is not supported

These commands will differ from platform to platform. Fortunately, there are some undocumented (and unsupported) commands to circumvent this issue. From configuration mode enter the following commands. Note that since the first command is undocumented you can’t “tab” and “?” your way to the command. You can only type the full command in.

switch(config)# service unsupported-transceiver

switch(config)# no errdisable detect cause gbic-invalid

The first command will yield the following:

Switch(config)#service unsupported-transceiver

 Warning: When Cisco determines that a fault or defect can be traced to the use of third-party transceivers installed by a customer or reseller, then, at Cisco’s discretion, Cisco may withhold support under warranty or  a Cisco support program. In the course of providing support for a Cisco networking product Cisco may require that the end user install Cisco transceivers if Cisco determines that removing third-party parts will assist Cisco in diagnosing the cause of a support issue.

The above command should make it clear that you run the risk of losing support. I’ve used the above commands on Cisco 3750, 3560, and 2960 platforms.

Ultimately it’s the decision of the customer to make the call. Only they can ultimately decide risk versus reward. It’s our job as technology partners to explain the advantages and disadvantages of either approach.

 

Here are some reference links for additional information:

Third Party Policy:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/prod_warranty09186a00800b5594.html

SFP Invalid Error:

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/hw/modules/ps4999/products_tech_note09186a00807a30d6.shtml

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SFP+ (Small Form-Factor Pluggable) are the upgraded version of the former SFP transceivers (mini GBIC), with higher data rate and new industrial standards. It is smaller than any of the currently shipping form factors and provides the highest density per line card. SFP+ offers customers both immediate benefits and long-term advantages in supporting evolving data center needs. The SFP+ specification was first published on May 9, 2006, and version 4.1 published on July 6, 2009. It is a international industry format supported by many network component vendors.

SFP+ is an innovative, next-generation transceiver module. Initially, it is targeted to support speeds of 10 Gbps for next-generation Gigabit Ethernet applications and 8.5Gbps Fiber Channel systems. What is more, SFP plus is with lower power consumption for less than 1W and it is even cost effective. These transceivers are with managed digital optical monitoring and superior high temperature performance.

Several industrial acknowledged standards for SFP plus has been released for 10Gpbs networks, including 10Gbase-SR, which define the SFP plus transceiver working with OM3 10G multimode fiber at 30 to 300 meters range, 10Gbase-LR which define the SFP plus transceiver working with single mode fiber at 10km range, 10Gbase-LRM which define the FDDI multimode fiber at around 220 meters range.

Compare With XENPAK or XFP Modules
In comparison to earlier XENPAK or XFP modules, SFP+ module is with more compact size compared with the former 10G transceivers X2 and Xenpak, leave more circuitry to be implemented on the host board instead of inside the module.
The advantages of SFP+ modules:
SFP+ Has A More Compact Form Factor Package Than X2 And XFP.
It Can Connect With The Same Data Rate Of XFP, X2 And XENPAK Directly.
The Cost Of SFP+ Is Lower Than XFP, X2 And XENPAK.

SFP+ Transceiver is interchangeable with SFP transceiver and can be used in the same cages as SFP transceiver. For 10G applications, SFP+ transceiver has a smaller footprint and lower power consumption than XFP transceiver. The electrical interface to the host board for SFP transceiver and SFP+ transceiver is the same serial.

Many companies, such as Cisco, Finisar, and Sumitomo, have released SFP+ transceivers. SFP+ ensure the 10Gbps data transmission and the most densely installation capability as well as the lowest cost, currently it is well acknowledged as the ultimate choice for the 10Gbps fiber optic transceivers. Among them, Cisco SFP+ transceiver is the mainstream market. Cisco 10Gbase SFP+ transceivers are used for high speed 10Gigabit Ethernet, linking the equipment to fiber optic networks. Cisco SFP+ products include active SFP+ cables and SFP+ transceivers. There is also copper transceiver available from Cisco.

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